Into the Looking Glass. What the Future Holds for Medicinal Cannabis in New Zealand in 2021

It’s hard to believe that medicinal cannabis was illegal in New Zealand in all shapes and forms before 2017. In only three short years there has been a giant leap forward for the burgeoning industry in terms of research, as well as products that are now helping thousands of Kiwis throughout Aotearoa. 

We expect 2021 to be an even bigger year! Sit back and enjoy as we interview the industry leaders to find out what 2021 has coming up for medicinal cannabis in NZ – from new companies to future plans. 

The Major Industry Milestones of 2020

In April 2020, the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme came into effect. The Scheme aims to improve access to quality medicinal cannabis products for patients’ needs by setting minimum product quality standards, for both CBD and THC.

Alongside the Scheme was an extension given to the transitional period, allowing medicinal cannabis products that are yet to meet the standard quality criteria to be supplied. This transitional period initially expired in November 2020, but an extension was granted for quality requirements until March 2021.

Before 2020, any THC prescription was long winded and required Ministry of Health approval. This is no longer the case, as any registered doctor can now prescribe it to you. This includes flower for vaporising and vape products. At the moment, there is only one THC product available for GPs to prescribe – Sativex which costs anywhere from $800-$1000. We are expecting other THC products to become available this year. 

  • The recreational cannabis referendum did not pass 

In October 2020, the NZ cannabis referendum was held but did not pass. While this referendum raised the question of legalising the sale, use, production, and possession of Cannabis, being voted down does not affect the status of medicinal cannabis, which remains legal.

What’s in Store for 2021?

Overall, we expect that 2021 will bring a range of new NZ-made products into the medicinal cannabis space. This includes new CBD and THC oils and cannabis flower products. While product prices are predicted to lower as a result, we are not expecting this to happen quickly because new licences and GMP certification add overheads and slow down the process.

Here are some thoughts from New Zealand’s biggest medical cannabis players.

Cannabis Flower
The introduction of cannabis flower products into New Zealand in 2021 will be a major milestone which many patients are eagerly awaiting.
Mark Lucas Cannasouth
Mark Lucas, CEO of Cannasouth

Cannasouth

Mark Lucas from Cannasouth is excited to start seeing the price of medicinal cannabis products come down in 2021 and start delivering much needed medicinal cannabis options to New Zealand prescribers and patients this year.

‘The rise of more medicinal cannabis options for patients and prescribers comes after years of pushing by the public for increased access to cannabis-based medicines.’ 

Luckily, this has paid off. Cannasouth will roll out the first products approved under the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme available to patients via prescription in 2021.

As more NZ manufactured products are assessed to meet quality standards alongside imported products, the prices will start to decline. Cannasouth is one company having its first products being evaluated by the agency at the moment. If all goes to plan, 2021 will see Cannasouth bring their first imported products to patients.

Cannasouth, a science-led company, is focused on developing improved products that aim to increase the bioavailability to improve therapeutic outcomes and further reduce costs to patients. In 2021, Cannasouth’s research will move from lab to production scale while pre-clinical research continues.

CEO of Eqalis based in the Bay of Plenty
Greg Mission, CEO of Eqalis based in the Bay of Plenty

Eqalis

Greg Mission from Eqalis remains optimistic about what 2021 holds for medicinal Cannabis in NZ.

‘We feel 2021 will be a year of consolidation and growth for NZ’s medical Cannabis industry,’ he expresses. ‘The growth will come primarily from improved knowledge and understanding, bringing further confidence in the emerging field of medicine.’

Eqalis considers 2021 to be shaping up as an exciting year for buyers and prescribers alike. A small privately held company with the simple goal of enhancing the quality of people’s lives, Eqalis wants to intensify its medical cannabis program in 2021 with a clear focus on efficacy and economics.

Helius
Carmen Doran is the new CEO of Helius Therapeutics – a company that has merged both human and animal medicinal care products and is looking to consolidate this in 2021

Helius Therapeutics

As more local producers enter the market, Helius expects to see improved access and increased options for prescribers and their patients, alongside a broader understanding of the benefits of medicinal Cannabis. Helius believes we will see partnerships emerge to create a more seamless experience for those wishing to try medicinal Cannabis.

Alongside this, patients should be able to access world-class, NZ-made medicinal Cannabis without having to break the bank.

‘This year should be the first step in improving the affordability of these medicines, although it will take time,’ Carmen, the CEO at Helius, expresses. ‘This is also the year that local, vertically-integrated cannabis companies, like ours, prepare to export to the world.’

In doing so, this will fuel innovation, and cannabis-based medicines from New Zealand are expected to be recognised amongst the world’s safest and most effective solutions.

2021 looks to be a significant year of delivery and innovation for Helius. They are proud to have completed their state-of-the-art medicinal cannabis cultivation and processing facility in Auckland, allowing them to manufacture and supply locally produced cannabis medicines in New Zealand and abroad.

Their strategy? To become the most innovative medicinal cannabis company, focused on safety and efficacy – to be the best in the world, from the edge of the world. Helius is also passionate about cannabinoids playing a role in the wellness of animals. In 2020, Helius invested in Hale, an animal health start-up, which has just launched its first natural health supplement range, called Vitality Plus™. Helius is also collaborating to develop New Zealand’s first veterinary medicine with CBD as the active ingredient.

Courtney Medleaf 1024x512
Courtney Leticia from Medleaf Therapeautics. A company that has worked hard to deliver thousands of patients in NZ with high quality products, Medleaf is looking at 2021 with new product development in the pipeline

Medleaf Therapeutics

Courtney and Shane from Medleaf are convinced that local medicinal cannabis suppliers will move beyond selling just CBD, to selling full-spectrum oils, capsules, and flower products. However, they still wonder about the Ministry of Health’s impact on these new products and whether the government will help or hinder these new additions to the medicinal cannabis market.

Medleaf’s number one priority has been to bring medicinal cannabis prices down. They have recently publicly announced a deal with THC Global. This deal states that they won’t merely be copying other products at a lower price but forging their path with superior products that make more sense for prescribers and patients.

Additionally, Medleaf prides itself on having scoured the world to find expert growers who can meet the NZ Quality Standards right now. While they can’t indicate what’s just around the corner for specific products, Courtney and Shane suggest reading up on Ocimene, a rarely dominant terpene in Cannabis, to give you a clue on what the future holds for Medleaf.

Mark Dye 2 1
Mark Dye from Nubu Pharma who is looking to bring access to a range of product options in 2021 

Nubu Pharma

Mark and Will from NUBU Pharma consider 2021 to hold a great deal of promise for New Zealand’s medicinal cannabis patients since the affects of the new medicinal cannabis regulations are starting to take hold. Improved accessibility to a broader range of product options, formats, and medical devices are some benefits to be expected as NUBU Pharma becomes registered under the new Medicinal Cannabis Scheme and as prescriber education programmes ramp up.

This year is looking to be the busiest yet for Mark and Will.

‘2021 marks the 5th year since we first sat down and created the blueprint for NUBU Pharma,’ they state.

While both admit it has been a long and arduous process to get to where they are now, they feel like 2021 is the year when patients and prescribers in NZ will feel the impact of all that groundwork.

While they are excited about the future of NUBU, Mark and Will unfortunately can’t disclose much information about their plan to help NZ cannabis patients access a greater range of products due to the regulations set out in the Medicines Act (1981).

Rua Bioscience Rob
Rob Mitchell from Rua Bioscience – working towards locally produced products and optimistic about WINZ and ACC funding

Rua Bioscience

While there is still significant uncertainty about how many products will be available once the transition period ends on 31 March, Rob Mitchell from Rua Bioscience remains optimistic. Rua hopes to see some NZ-cultivated products in the market later in 2021 and progress on getting low-dose CBD removed from the prescription-only classification.

Rua also hopes to see a review of Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) and Work and Income (WINZ) policies on funding medicinal Cannabis to make all prescriptions from registered prescribers funded for clients of these organisations. They believe the industry will work together more this year, as NZ companies are looking at opportunities to collaborate on research with universities and government research organisations. Because of this, there are likely to be several other areas, including workforce development and product labelling, requiring collaboration.

Rua has some exciting developments in 2021. They are focused on cultivating scale commercial crops, Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certification of their facilities, opening up additional international market opportunities, and receiving updates from their R&D programs. Also, Rua expects growth, with their first international exports by the end of 2021 and the expansion of their team.

Tilray - medicinal cannabis supplier in NZ
Tilray, a Canadian based company, has been the first supplier of medicinal cannabis in NZ and is working closely with the Ministry of Health

Tilray

Tilray believes 2021 will see many changes. As the Medicinal Cannabis Agency works hard to approve product assessments from different companies, Tilray believes this will increase the number of products available for prescribers to select. With fewer barriers in place, it will also be easy for patients to access these products. Therefore, patients and prescribers can be confident that the products being approved in NZ are pharmaceutical grade and of consistent and reliable quality that they can trust.

While Tilray is working closely with the Ministry of Health on several applications, they are restricted on sharing the details and advertising the availability of unapproved products. However, they are excited to see what 2021 will bring for their company and many others in the field.

Caduceus Medical Development

Like many in the medicinal cannabis field, Caduceus Medical Development expects the prices of products to be driven down as domestic CBD manufacturers begin to advance their products to market. They believe the domestic sector maturation will see more product options for patients and prescribers, and once the domestic manufacturers and testing laboratories get up to speed with pharmaceutical GMP and compliance, prices will begin to fall.

Tara Creaven-Capasso from Caduceus Medical Development considers the medical cannabis sector to be exciting.

‘It is not at all like life science, pharma, or med tech,’ she states.

While January so far has been relatively quiet for the medical cannabis sector, Caduceus Medical Development is excited to see what’s in store for the rest of 2021.

Greenlab

Greenlab predicts the future of NZ medicinal cannabis to be enormous in the next four to five years.

‘President Joe Biden’s administration may end the US federal prohibition that will have a cascading effect down under. Also, the move by the UN to remove Cannabis from the list of the world’s most dangerous drugs into medicinal drugs can be in New Zealand’s favour,’ they declare.

They believe that in 2021 New Zealand will further evaluate and understand its local genetics for therapeutic potential and create scientifically proven strains wanted by medical doctors and needed by patients.

Greenlab’s vision is to position New Zealand at the forefront of medicinal Cannabis, responding to the needs of cultivators, patients, prescribers, and end users. At the start of 2021, Greenlab signed a contract with Cannvalate Australia, giving Greenlab scientists vital information on local strains’ product potential. Greenlab is growing at Lincoln University’s fully controlled environment to check cannabis potency and volatile compound profiles to fast-track the work.

Waseem Lisa Cannabis Clinic 2
Dr Waseem and Lisa from the Cannabis Clinic – delivering a leading medicinal cannabis clinical service throughout NZ

Cannabis Clinic

Dr. Waseem Alzaher from Cannabis Clinic thinks there will be three main developments for medicinal Cannabis in 2021. Firstly, new product lines on the market will allow greater access for patients and options, especially with flower-based products, which will be a considerable addition to the market. Secondly, a shift towards local suppliers and local production of NZ-made cannabis products looks to be exciting. Thirdly, he sees the trend of widespread acceptance of cannabis as a medicine happening at a greater pace.

While he acknowledges the industry has faced more obstacles than initially anticipated, Cannabis Clinic is looking to grow further in 2021 by utilising more opportunities for products as they become available.

‘While we hope for prices to come down, it is not looking like it will be happening in a rush,’ Dr Alzaher states. ‘We are looking at how as doctors, we can improve our clinical knowledge in using cannabis as there is still learning to be done for us.’

Cannabis Clinic continues to look at how they can improve their service to patients and achieve better clinical outcomes. As 2021 is also expected to allow more room for the industry to grow locally, they are confident this will increase demand for their service.

Final thoughts

2021 looks to be an exciting and innovative time for the New Zealand medicinal cannabis sector. We are likely to see new products enter the market but also some existing products phased out as they don’t meet the new quality requirements. 

One of the most exciting developments will be the possible availability of flower products and more options for THC. We will also see more developments for NZ-made medicinal cannabis products.

What would you like to see from the industry leaders in 2021? 

MBChB (Otago), BSc (Auckland) - As our tele-medicine doctor and author, Dr. Waseem keeps busy educating both patients and doctors about medicinal cannabis. He also consults with people from all over New Zealand, offering a listening ear and giving the most relevant advice.

5 thoughts on “Into the Looking Glass. What the Future Holds for Medicinal Cannabis in New Zealand in 2021

  1. Shirley Smeaton says:

    I would like to see products that are not priced out of reach of a lot of people, I and my husband are not well off and I Hope that the price of products will drop significantly in the very near future, we had to dig deep to get me what I needed, and other than breaking the law and buying straight cannabis for my chronic pain, I could not carry on affording what I needed to help me, and although I have a GP who now trusts me to monitor my own levels of pain, cannot in all good conscience write a script for what I know does work, but there are enough side effects to have most people put off, none of which I seemed to have a problem with.

    • Dr. Waseem Alzaher says:

      Hi Shirley, thanks for your comment. Yes I understand the cost issue. The good news is that THC based products are actually a lot cheaper than CBD. They currently are $2-3 per day and expected to drop. We also expect flower products to be similar price to the blackmarket. So keep your eyes and ears on any news or notifications as things are changing quickly.

  2. caren ashford says:

    Hi, i am confused…..you say…THC can now be prescribed by any registered doctor…..but we still have to get MOH to approve 10/10 tilray and 25 tilray.
    can you please explain your statement

    • Dr. Waseem Alzaher says:

      Hi Caren, thanks for the question. We have just adjusted the article to address this confusion. Yes indeed THC is available but this will only apply as soon as the Ministry of Health approves any product they currently are assessing. Once this is done, hopefully within 2-3 months time, the MOH applications will cease. So it is legal but there are just no products at the very moment. Hope this helps

  3. Norma Norma says:

    The predicted growth of the industry is exciting, I’m sure to those researching, promoting and supplying medicinal cannabis. But unless prices drop dramatically, it is somewhat academic to people like me. Like many others, I live with debilitating pain every day -sometimes excruciating, sometimes merely bad. My doctor won’t prescribe cannabis, or CBD, because he is bound by the policy of the clinic in which he works. Even if he did, the cost of the actual product is prohibitive, for people living on superannuation. So forgive me if my response to your excitement is rather luke-warm. I wish someone with some authority and knowledge would lobby for CBD, at least, to be readily available without prescription, and at over-the-counter prices, as it is in England, and, I understand in a number of European countries. I admire the work that’s being done, but the tantalising carrot remains frustratingly out of reach for so many of us. Norma

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